How much exercise do you need?

We reveal how long and often you should exercise each week to achieve various fitness goals.

1 . Build muscle: 4 weights sessions

The experts we spoke to agree with research published in the journal Sports Medicine earlier this year: for the best results, you need to train each major muscle group twice a week with two rest days between each session. At the simplest level, split your muscle groups into upper and lower body, and do each twice a week for a total of four sessions weekly. If you break down the workouts into smaller muscle groups, you’ll be doing more sessions and get even better results. It’s important to note that nutrition (particularly extra protein) must also accompany the workouts.

2 . Get endorphins: 1 hour of intense exercise

Want to experience the endorphin high that makes so many people addicted to exercise? Researchers say you need to exercise hard for at least an hour to reach this point. When we say hard, we mean HIIT hard – moderate exercise doesn’t cut it. Endorphins bind to the same receptors in the brain as opiate drugs, which is why you might feel a “high”, although the real reason they actually kick in is to minimise stress and pain. The author of a study on endorphins said that since the release of these chemicals is to counter the body’s fatigue and pain, it’s not a very sustainable way to feel good about exercise.

3. Better mood: 45 minutes, 4-5 days a week

It can be argued that virtually any exercise will lift your mood, but we went looking for the research that proves this. One Australian study found that exercising for an hour or more each week was enough to improve your mental wellbeing and reduce your chances of becoming depressed by up to 44%! But the mother of all studies, which followed 33,908 Norwegian adults for more than 11 years, found that exercise does more than just elevate your mood. Those who worked out for around 45 minutes four to five times a week were 10-12% less likely to suffer from depression.

4. Drop fat: 4 intense cardio sessions

Since weight loss is all about calorie burn, the more exercise you do, the more fat you lose, assuming your nutrition remains disciplined. However, there comes a point when too much exercise is counterproductive, so if there’s a generally accepted limit, it’s four to five intense cardio sessions a week with each lasting at least 30 minutes, experts say. Studies have shown that less than four sessions a week will still get you fit, but you won’t burn enough calories for big weight loss. Any more, such as six sessions, will take too much of a toll on your body, resulting in decreased motivation and a higher risk of injury.

5. Live longer: 600 minutes a week

If you want to live longer, exercise as much as you can. In a study by Australia’s Westmead Institute for Medical Research, 1500 Australian adults over the age of 50 were followed for a decade. The results showed that the more people trained, the longer they lived. To literally halve your chances of stroke, heart disease, angina, cancer and diabetes, try to train at a moderate to high intensity for at least 600 minutes a week or 85 minutes a day. And the least amount of exercise you can do? Running just 5 minutes daily could add years to your life, says a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.